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Israel: Only 23% of public want right-wing, ultra-Orthodox government

Members of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish family walk at the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem's Old City overlooking al-Aqsa Mosque on September 27, 2018 - (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish family walk at the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem's Old City overlooking al-Aqsa Mosque on September 27, 2018 - (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Only 23 per cent of all Israeli voters want to see a government comprised of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.

In a poll published yesterday by Israel’s Channel 13 news, only 23 per cent of voters said they would like to see a government made up of right-wing parties and the ultra-Orthodox factions, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), pointing to dissatisfaction with the current makeup of government and growing opposition to the political power of the Haredim.

The current government under incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dominated by his right-wing Likud party, but is heavily reliant on the support of Shas and UTJ, which won eight seats each in April’s election.

Instead, 50 per cent of voters support the formation of a unity government, which would see the right-wing and left-wing blocs effectively broken down and Likud, its biggest rival Blue and White (Kahol Lavan), and other centrist parties come together to form a coalition.

The poll also found that support for former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party is continuing to rise; he is now predicted to win as many as 11 seats, more than double the five he won in April’s election.

Though some speculated that Lieberman could be punished at the ballot box for dragging Israel into an unprecedented second election in a year, in fact the opposite seems to be the case.

Lieberman: ‘Our conflict is with the entire Muslim world, with the entire Arab world’

Since the collapse of coalition talks in May, Lieberman has consistently called for a unity government that excludes ultra-Orthodox parties from the coalition. He has also vowed that he will not recommend either incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Blue and White head Benny Gantz to form the government if they agree to sit with the ultra-Orthodox.

Though Lieberman has long attacked the Haredim, pushing the so-called Haredi draft law in a bid to conscript ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, his rhetoric seems to have struck a chord with an Israeli public frustrated by the Haredi parties’ outsized political influence.

This, combined with nation-wide election weariness, has likely driven the public’s increased support for a national unity government, which would serve the dual purpose of ending the current political impasse and curtailing the power of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

A voting booth is seen during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

A voting booth is seen during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

Results of the survey came as the deadline to declare party slates expired at midnight yesterday, some six weeks before Israel heads to the polls on 17 September. A total of 32 parties registered their participation with Israel’s Central Election Committee, 15 less than the 47 which registered ahead of the April election.

Despite the vast number of registrations, less than ten parties hold a realistic chance of passing the minimum 3.25 per cent electoral threshold needed to sit in the Knesset. Several mergers have been agreed in the past few weeks to ensure parties do not drop below this threshold, including a broad right-wing alliance led by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and the resurrection of the Joint List, which brings together the four predominantly Arab-Israeli factions under one platform.

Shaked’s United Right alliance and the Joint List are now expected to win 11 seats each, while the Democratic Union – a left-wing alliance of Meretz, the Israel Democratic Party (Yisrael Demokratit) and Labor party defector Stav Shaffir – is predicted to win nine seats.

Meanwhile fringe parties such as the libertarian Zehut party and vehemently anti-Palestinian Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) – which announced yesterday it had dropped an alliance with ultra-nationalist Noam – are not predicted to pass the threshold.

Polls also indicate that a national unity government could be not only the Israeli public’s preferred choice but also a necessity; Likud is slated to win 30 seats, while its biggest rival Blue and White is slated to win 29. As things stand, neither party could form a majority government without Lieberman, risking a repeat of the deadlock seen in May.

Though holding a third election is theoretically possible, the cost in financial and political terms would be profound, effectively paralysing the government for an entire year and costing hundreds of millions of shekels.

READ: Likud to spend $0.5m spying on Arab-Israeli polling stations

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